Atlantic Crossing Days 16-18: Houston, We Have a Pit Stop

Sunday June 30, 2014

anchorage St. George Bermuda

I’m just going to roll this all into one post instead of segregating each day, since I’ve kind of been stretching it lately trying to find something new to talk about every day. I’m starting to get to the point where if I don’t write down 1-2 short sentences of what happened the previous day, I can’t remember anything specific about it. Seriously. If you asked me exactly what happened on Friday my answer would be ‘Ummm…?’. I do know that there are three interesting things that have happened in that many days though.

1.) In getting ourselves within about 150-200 miles off the coast of Bermuda, we’ve begun to pick up their radio broadcasts on our VHF. Wow, ridiculously strong signal! We started to lose broadcasts from the US Coast Guard and NOAA about 60 miles off shore. It’s been nice hearing another live voice again that doesn’t belong to either of us, and it’s also super cute hearing those voices in British or slightly Scottish accents. All I can say is, these guys really watch the waters that surround them. You’re supposed to check in with them once you’re within 35 miles or so of shore, and if you get too close without calling in, they will call you.

Multiple times we heard a call go out from Bermuda Radio that would follow something like this: Vessel approximately 9 miles NE of St. George’s Harbor, traveling at a speed of 7.6 knots on a course of 182 degrees, this is Bermuda Radio, how do you respond? They know everything that’s moving out there. If you have an AIS transciever, they’ll hunt you down by name until you respond. Not planning on stopping there ourselves, we wondered if we’d ever get a call from them if we came too close. Vessel, or sea log, approximately 25 miles SW of Bermuda, drifting at a pace of 1.6 knots on a course of 78 degrees, this is Bermuda Radio, how do you respond?

Another thing we were able to pick up from them once we got a little bit closer is their daily weather report, which was broadcast on channel 27 about 3-4 times a day. It may have only covered an area with a diameter of 20 miles from Bermuda, but it was still nice to have yet another source confirming that we could continue to expect the 8-12 knots of wind we’ve been receiving. It also gives us…drumroll…the forecast from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Which leads us to our next interesting item.

2. Guess what? According to a recommended article, there’s something brewing out there. A tropical storm at the moment, but based on the reports we’ve been getting from NHC and Bermuda radio, the chance that it will develop into a hurricane is growing every day. We’ve seen it on our Weather Fax reports and have been watching it for some days now. From it’s predicted path, it won’t be veering out into the ocean anywhere in our vicinity, but we did enlist my dad to keep a close eye on it and let us know if it’s course changed and we should duck into Bermuda to ride it out, or just be safe if it looked unpredictable of where it might end up.

3. Even though this tropical storm shouldn’t be coming near us, we went to Bermuda anyway. In talking to my dad, even though the tropical storm status had yet to grow into hurricane, I personally didn’t feel comfortable being on the water with it out there. And more importantly, I wasn’t comfortable with what my mental status might become if we continued on. When day 18 at sea begun, I threw in the towel. We were steadily headed toward a 45 day crossing without a break, and I couldn’t take it anymore. The calm seas and comfortable ride, I could handle that. Our slow and steady pace of 2.5-3.0 knots, I could actually handle as well. The constant, never ending racket of the sails slamming in and out, all the hardware on our boom clanking and banging, all day and all night, that I could not take anymore.

When Matt and I were doing our shift change at 4 am this morning, I kind of nonchalantly mentioned, “We’re still about 43 miles from the entrance to St. George’s Harbor right now, if we want any chance of making it there by nightfall I think we’re going to have to turn on the engine”. He just kind of looked back at me like ‘Oh, so we’re actually stopping then?’. I think he was somewhat excited at the prospect of a 45 day passage. Like some kind of right of passage into long distance cruising. ‘How long was your longest passage? 32 days? Wow, that’s a pretty long run. We had 44’. Secretly, I kind of wanted to be able to say that too. Even though it probably would cement us as the worst cruisers ever, a testament of how not to sail across an ocean.

Once we were both up for the day it was time to put the boat back together and make her presentable for any customs and immigration that might come aboard. Thankfully, not only was she cleaner than any of our previous passages because we’ve been able to easily move about the boat without getting sick, and have for the most part picked up after ourselves everyday (you should have seen the mess we accumulated on our 2.5 day sail to Jamaica), but it was calm enough to have no problem really scrubbing her clean. Dirty sheets were tossed in the laundry, the cabin floor was swept, and the counters were 409’ed. The cockpit was rinsed and scrubbed, and many items were stuck out on deck to air. Plus, a big plus actually, is that with the 1-2 ft seas, it wasn’t a terrifying ordeal to haul our 55 lb Rocna anchor up on deck and secured to the bow again.

When we were about 15 miles out and were just starting to make out land on the horizon, a terrible storm came rolling in over us. I could see it from miles away, working it’s way toward us, and soon there was nothing but black sitting between us and Bermuda. I even heard a call on the VHF to Bermuda Radio that someone had spotted a waterspout.  Luckily all that ever came of it was a good fresh water rinse for the boat and some 20-25 knot winds.  We were soon back to cleaning, and all darkness was quickly behind us.  The sun was brightly shining in the sky and Bermuda was in full view.  By this time we had already gone through the process of checking in with Bermuda Radio, who required all kinds of information, like the brand of our life raft, our satellite phone number and the ID off our EPIRB.  I guess most of this can be done online before you get there, but we had never been planning on stopping.

Pulling into the actual harbor around 5:30 in the afternoon, we were given instructions to make our way to the dock for customs and immigration.  The officer was very friendly, but a little concerned as soon as he found out we had a cat on board.  Even though we’d just gone through so much work in Florida getting all the necessary paperwork required for the EU, it wasn’t good enough for Bermuda, we needed one specific to them.  However, they told us that if we were willing to anchor out and never bring her to shore, they’d pretend she didn’t exist.  Fine by us, we prefer to be at anchor anyway.  The rest of the paperwork took less than 10 minutes, and after handing over our $35/person and getting our passports stamped, we were cleared in and ready to relax.

I have to say, this is one of the best landfalls we’ve ever made.  Possibly because we haven’t seen land in over 17 days now, but sigh, just the sights and sounds.  Immediately we could hear gospel music ringing out from the churches as we happened to have come in during evening mass.  The hills were alive with the chirp of crickets, and scents of floral blossoms wafted out onto the water.  Pouring myself a glass of wine, something I didn’t allow myself to do on passage, I watched the sun go down and looked forward to my first full night of sleep in 18 days.

storm over Bermuda

St. George, Bermuda

*Ok, there’s actually 4. For the past few nights I’ve seen what looks like a very bright star, possibly a planet, that has been coming up just before sunrise, around 65 degrees ENE. The interesting thing about it, or should I say strange, or downright freaky, is that it fades in and out. I’m not even joking. One moment it will be so bright that it’s casting a reflection on the water, the next moment it’s gone. I had thought it was weird, but just chalked it up to low lying clouds blocking it out at times. But then last night, the sky was covered with clouds to the point that you couldn’t make out any stars near the horizon (where I always see it), yet the light was still there, fading in and out. WTF?!

A possible lighthouse? I don’t think so, I’ve seen it four nights in a row now. Plus there’s been nothing showing on our charts about being in that area. It’s still east of Bermuda, so it has nothing to do with that. I’m so glad I can sleep through the darkness in an anchorage tonight and not have to worry about strange lights appearing on the horizon.

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